Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Don't Assume There Are No Records For Your Family

There is a pervasive background to genealogical research. I constantly hear complaints from researchers that their family's records have been lost or never existed. Sometimes this complaint comes from information about a "burned" county, where the courthouse burned down at one point in time or even several times. After doing years of research, I find that there are some realistic limitations on both the availability and existence of records on a specific individual or family, but I also find that very few of the people who complain about a lack of records have come close to the actual limits.

Nearly all the complaints I receive about lost records result in a resolution. The underlying causes of the complaints arise from several different sources:

  • The researcher is looking in the wrong place or for records during the wrong time period
  • The researcher does not know where to find the records
  • The researcher cannot find records that are assumed to exist. For example, birth certificates before such documents were required by the state or county
  • The researcher does not know that alternate records exist that have the same or similar information as the "lost" records
  • The researcher is looking for records that were never in existence or looking at a time when the target records were not kept
  • The researcher is looking for the wrong person
  • The records that do exist fail to record the researcher's target person
  • The researcher is relying on an incomplete or inaccurate index
There are probably more reasons also, but any one of the above situations could result in a researcher coming to a conclusion that the records have been lost. 

Is there a cure for this condition? Fortunately, yes. To be a successful researcher, you always have to assume that the records are there and keep looking. Just because you are told that the "records all burned" or that they were destroyed due to a war or some kind of natural disaster, does not mean that the information you are looking for was not preserved. I have recently been looking at "burned" records that were ultimately preserved from a fire that took place back in 1870. New technology can sometimes restore records that were previously damaged beyond use. 

1 comment:

  1. Two "non-existent records."

    I discovered two passenger lists from 1819 for two ships that came from Antwerp to New York. We know that New York arrival lists don't begin until 1820. Also, there are no departure lists from Antwerp until 1855 and not again until much later.

    It is easy enough to find the "Columbia," as it continued on to Philadelphia, and we can find it on But the one that really beats the odds is the "Eugenie," which was discovered in the French military crew lists of 1819 at the military archive in Brest, France. A French military ship built for the European version of the War of 1812 was refitted as a cargo and passenger ship, and the military captain and crew stayed on duty as it carried trans-Atlantic civilian passengers.

    Both lists have full names, ages, occupations, origins, and remarks.

    Ernie Thode